Outdoors year in review

Friday, December 28, 2012

What will 2013 hold for the Missouri outdoorsman? What did 2012 hold? In looking back over the past year, it's time to review some of the biggest news items that came from the outdoors.

One of the biggest events that affected outdoorsmen in the past year was the long drought that was tough on wildlife and fish across not only the state of Missouri, but the entire nation.

Lack of water in the marshes, as well as reduced natural food sources made the early teal season a little bit of a dud. The birds kept moving south right on through the state of Missouri. The entire state was in a severe drought for most of the year as shown by the National Climatic Data Center.

Everything from trees to fish felt the pinch of the deepening drought and heat. The period from January through June this year was hotter than the same time period in any other year on record nationally and this June was the sixth-driest on record. One hundred degree-plus temperatures began in June and lingered into August.

Reports of deer lying dead in ponds and streams across the state began to accumulate, providing evidence that the drought was increasing losses to hemorrhagic diseases, because the biting flies that spread those diseases are most prevalent near water. Drought forces deer to congregate around limited water sources, which increases the chances of a disease-bearing fly biting a healthy deer.

Good news related to the drought was rare, but there were a few silver linings. High on that list was the fact that the ticks weren't as bad this year as usual. The invasive zebra mussels can't tolerate warm water well, so last summer's extreme conditions helped contain the mussels.

This year was just a few days old when a Reynolds County man reported that he had captured a mountain lion in a trap. The 122-pound male cougar was later released onto the Current River Conservation Area.

In April, a trail-camera photo captured a mountain lion in rural Grundy County. The Missouri Department of Conservation confirmed that a photo of a mountain lion taken by another trail camera was taken on Oct. 31, near Branson. Widely scattered mountain lion sightings have been confirmed across Missouri and likely will continue.

There is no confirmed evidence of a breeding population of mountain lions in the state of Missouri. They are naturally shy around humans and generally pose little danger to people. Although they are protected by federal law, Missouri's Wildlife Code allows people to protect themselves and their property if they feel threatened by mountain lions or any other wildlife.

Anglers had a good year, catching big fish with many that would qualify for a Master Angler Certificate. Several state-record fish were caught this year, including a 1-pound-12-ounce goldeye that proved to be a state pole-and-line record. The fish was caught by Rachel Davis, from the Lake of the Ozarks. A 9-pound-2-ounce largemouth bass was taken by Dylan Gilmore on a trotline at Ka-Tonka Lake, in Ralls County. He was using a goldfish for bait.

Cody Chaney, 18, caught a state-record river carpsucker when he landed a 5-pound-8-ounce specimen with archery tackle. His fish broke a record that was set a mere three weeks earlier.

It was another good year for deer hunters in Missouri. Hunters shot 204,668 deer during the November portion of the modern firearms season, which was the largest number of deer taken in November in four years. Top counties were Howell with 4,037 deer kills reported, followed by Texas with 3,916. The dark side of the season was that there were three fatal firearm-related incidents reported across the state and five non-fatal incidents involving hunters and firearms.

Bow hunters have had another good season with several weeks of their season still remaining. The archery deer and turkey season continues until Jan. 15, 2013.

Of the 10 top counties in terms of the number of deer taken, eight were south of the Missouri River. Does made up 44 percent of the November harvest, which was a 10 percent increase from the previous year. The increase in the doe harvest is indicative of the growing deer numbers in southern Missouri.

The ranks of young deer hunters are swelling, as shown in the number of deer checked during this year's weekend youth hunt The youngsters checked 19,277 deer during this year's youth weekend.

The first youth deer hunt was back in 2001 and the harvest was 6,277. In that first hunt, there were approximately 40,000 young hunters under the age of 16 who participated. This past season, the youth hunters numbered around 70,000.

During the four-day urban deer season, hunters checked 1,108 deer, which nearly doubled the 2011 season. All or a portion of 12 Missouri counties are included in the urban deer zones located around Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis and the Columbia-Jefferson City areas. The Urban Firearms Deer Season started back in 2003 to provide better control of the deer numbers in and around population centers. The hunters could take only anterless deer during the urban hunt.

Missouri turkey hunters also had a very good season, starting with the annual spring hunt, when hunters checked 40,447 bearded birds, which was 2,120 more than the previous spring season.

Young turkey hunters took advantage of warm and dry weather during the spring youth season. The youngsters checked 4,319 turkeys this year and that was up from the 3,898 birds checked in the 2011 spring youth season.

During the fall firearms season, which lasted through the entire month of October, hunters harvested 8,498 turkeys. Top counties were Webster with 225 turkeys checked, followed by Laclede with 223 and Greene with 216. There are around 15,000 hunters who purchased fall firearms permits, compared to more than 100,000 spring permit sales.

The past two years have provided a needed improvement in turkey production. A good hatch in 2011 should result in a large group of 2-year-old gobblers, which should make the 2013 spring season exciting for wild turkey hunters.

Missouri's elk herd doubled in size on May 19, 2012, with the arrival of the second batch of wild elk from Kentucky. Some 35 elk arrived at Peck Ranch and were ushered into spacious holding pens. Within an hour, the state's newest residents were grazing on lush clover.

For the past two years, the Missouri Department of Conservation has been working with local communities to restore elk to a 346 square-mile restoration zone in this rugged area of the Ozarks.

Missouri's outdoors people and landowners were advised to be bear aware. The number of encounters between bears and people in Missouri is on the increase. Feeding pets outdoors, leaving garbage or livestock feed in unsecured containers, or keeping camp food in coolers outside vehicles can overwhelm a bear's normal shyness.

Waterfowl hunters are having a good season as well, in spite of low water levels. The population of mallards, which are the mainstay species for Missouri duck hunters, was estimated at more than 10 million birds heading south this year.

These are just a few of the highs and lows of 2012. Hunters, anglers, campers, boaters and other outdoor-active people will remember the past year for other things, both good and bad, as we get ready for new adventures to come in 2013.

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